10 · A Short History of Nearly Everything

Last year I wrote about a slew of non-fiction books on the great figures of the 19th century who Changed Everything, but there were a few gaps. I mentioned Simon Garfield’s Mauve, but only read it this year: a perfectly encapsulated story of a forgotten figure who invented much of the world we see around us. Then there was Deborah Cadbury’s The Dinosaur Hunters, which brings to life the time when people couldn’t bring themselves the believe that anything bigger than a rhinoceros ever wandered around Britain. (It inspired those dinosaur limericks.)

But the best pop science book I’ve read this year has to be Bill Bryson’s guided tour of modern science, A Short History of Nearly Everything. It’s a natural successor to his earlier books on the English language, and a lot wittier than most of the competition, if not always as accurate.

Bryson’s stamp was also on another good read, the reissue of W.E. Bowman’s The Ascent of Rum Doodle (he wrote the foreword). And while I’m mentioning vintage parody, there was also Stephen Leacock’s Moonbeams from the Larger Lunacy, excerpted here in January; and, in the beyond-parody category, Clifford Collinson’s Life and Laughter ’midst the Cannibals.

(I’m cheating here, because Cadbury, Bowman, and Collinson are all half-read on my book-pile, and will probably stay that way for a while now that I’ve started reading Quicksilver. But I can safely say that they’re half-good...)